Why the new Archbishop of York chose to break a centuries-old tradition during his enthronement service

In normal times, a new Archbishop of York marks his arrival by knocking three times on the West Door of the Minster with the historic Braganza Crozier to request admission.
The new Archbishop of York Stephen CottrellThe new Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell
The new Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell

It is a symbolic gesture, one which is meant to signal the cathedral welcoming its new head.

These, however, are not normal times, so when the former Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell on Thursday (July 9) became the city’s 98th Archbishop, he chose to knock instead on the inside of the grand wooden entrance before throwing the doors open to the public.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: “It felt like the right thing to do in the circumstances. We wanted to show that the Church is open to everyone and that we are here to support and help in these unprecedented times.”

While Archbishop Stephen initially looked a little unsure about what to do next, it was understandable. The usual enthronement service had been shelved in the wake of coronavirus and in its place came a low-key ceremony devoid of the usual religious fanfare.

Before his arrival at the Minster, his official confirmation had taken place behind closed doors with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby giving a formal address via Zoom.

Broadcast on the Church of England’s website, afterwards the surreal nature of the day continued as the newly confirmed Archbishop made his way to The Shambles. Pausing for a moment of private prayer at the shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow, passersby appeared bemused rather than awed by the unexpected arrival of a religious procession.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Walking back through the centre of the city where many of the shops still haven’t reopened, evidence that this was a very different welcome to the one enjoyed by his predecessor was everywhere.

Unlike in 2005, there was no music, no African dancers and the 3,500-strong congregation which had packed into the pews were reduced to just 30. Seated one metre apart in line with social distancing guidelines, they were almost outnumbered by members of the press. However, their applause as the new Archbishop picked up the Crozier for the first time was no less warm than it had been 15 years earlier.

Striding to the end of the nave wearing a plain burgundy cassock, Archbishop Stephen, who became a Christian after watching Franco Zeffirelli’s 1970s TV series Jesus of Nazareth, was finally able to greet members of his new congregation.

“I’m not quite sure how I ended up being Archbishop of York, but here I am - and the good thing is that you won’t be getting a long sermon,” he joked. “But I can’t let this moment go without saying something, so let me tell you a story. It’s not a funny story, so please don’t laugh or I will have failed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A man dies and goes to heaven and when he gets there he sees two entrances. One says ‘heaven’; the other says ‘interesting discussion about the concept of heaven” and everyone is standing outside the second door. What I want to say is, now is the time to stop talking about the good things and time to start living and sharing them.”

Like his predecessor, Archbishop Stephen has a reputation for being outspoken. He has been a vocal critic of the Trident nuclear programme and has called on the Church to be more proactive about increasing diversity, particularly amongst its own clergy

However, he was more concerned with enjoying the moment along with his wife Rebecca before the couple returned to their new home at Bishopthorpe Palace.

The last words he said to the well-wishers were: “That’s all folks”. It is, however, just the beginning for the new Archbishop facing the most challenging of times ahead.


Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected]. Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting www.localsubsplus.co.uk where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If you want to help right now, download our tablet app from the App / Play Stores. Every contribution you make helps to provide this county with the best regional journalism in the country.

Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson


Related topics: